Book Review: The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

Title: The Extraordinaries
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 405 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Marissa Meyer’s Renegades in TJ Klune’s YA debut. 

Based on having read two of his books, I can now pretty confidently state that TJ Klune writes books that makes me want to hug them. I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, which came out earlier this year, and now The Extraordinaries is here, with adorableness galore.

Our hero, Nick Bell, has no superpowers to speak of — unless you count his amazing imagination, his neuro-atypical brain that never slows down, and his ability to screw up no matter his good intentions.

Nick is starting junior year of high school with a promise to his dad to do better. No more getting into trouble. No more disrupting class or showing up late. And he really, really means to live up to that promise, but things have a way of not working out the way he plans.

Nick and his father live in Nova City, where his dad is a hard-working cop on the night shift. They live in the After — the years that have passed since Nick’s mother was killed during a bank robbery. Now it’s just the two of them, and while they love each other very much, it’s just not always easy.

Nova City is also the home of two Extraordinaries — superheroes who swoop in to fight crime and save the day. Shadow Star is the good guy, the masked man whose every move causes people to swoon in awe (and Nick to swoon in lust). Shadow Star’s archnemesis is Pyro Storm, the villain who can create and control fire, blocked from evil deeds by Shadow Star’s ability to manipulate shadows to carry out his will. They engage in epic battles over and around Nova City, but lately, these battles have escalated in their seriousness and the amount of damage left behind. The police chief is determined to put a stop to the havoc caused by these Extraordinaries.

Besides having a huge crush on Shadow Star, Nick writes incredibly popular fanfiction about him, and lives for the idea of meeting him eventually. Meanwhile, he goes to school and spends time with his best friends, who love Nick unconditionally, even when his brain and his tongue get him into trouble again and again. He’s a lot. But he’s theirs, and he’s a good guy (so lovable!), and they have his back no matter what.

Where do I even begin to describe how much I loved this book? It’s delightful and funny, but also surprisingly tender and lovely.

The relationship between Nick and his dad isn’t always smooth, but it is always grounded in love and devotion, and it’s really special to read about. While Aaron, the father, often causes Nick to squirm with his frank talk about sex and other matters, he’s coming from a place of support, and he’s determined to be the parent Nick needs, knowing that the two of them have to stick together through good times and bad.

Nick’s friend group is amazing — each quirky and unique in their own way, and so much fun to read about. Also, all queer and proud, in a no big deal, this is who I am sort of way. Each one of them deserves so many hugs! (Except Gibby might twist your arm if you try to hug her, so watch out. She’s tough.)

The writing is funny and charming, and Nicky especially has great lines. He’s a total smart-ass, even when he doesn’t necessarily intend to be.

The Great Romance of Nick and Owen came to an end as quickly as it started. (“You’re a great guy, Nicky, but I’m a wild animal who can’t be caged.” “Oh my god, you are not!”)

Nick really didn’t understand straight people. They didn’t seem to have any sense of self-preservation.

He wasn’t very adept when it came to comforting people he’d made out with. Or, at least, that appeared to be the case. He’d never made out with anyone else. He wondered if he needed to find someone else to make out with and then have them talk about their damaged relationship with their family to make sure.

Nick wondered if it were possible to disappear into the floor. He tapped his foot against it. Solid as always.

Nick groaned. “This sucks. Not only am I the comedic relief/love interest, I’m also the clueless comedic relief/love interest who is a pawn in a game I didn’t even realize was being played. God, my life is so cliche.

I feel like I could go on and on about how awesome this book is, or spend another 10,000 words or so just picking random paragraphs from the book to prove to you how fantastic and whimsical and hilarious and touching the writing is.

But let’s leave it at this: Nick is a damaged, imperfect guy living in a superhero world, and he’s extraordinary in his own ordinary way. I love him bunches and bunches, and I’m thrilled to know that The Extraordinaries is apparently the first book in a trilogy. I will absolutely read more about these characters and this world, and wish I didn’t have to wait for 2021 for the next installment.

Meanwhile, I’m clearly going to need to start working my way through TJ Klune’s backlist, pronto.

Book Review: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Title: Chosen Ones
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: John Joseph Adams
Publication date: April 7, 2020
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first novel written for an adult audience by the mega-selling author of the Divergent franchise: five twenty-something heroes famous for saving the world when they were teenagers must face even greater demons—and reconsider what it means to be a hero . . . by destiny or by choice.

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended. 

Fantasy books are filled with Chosen Ones — seemingly ordinary people plucked from obscurity to fulfill some great destiny — oh, say, like saving the world. But after the world is saved, what happens next?

It was a strange thing, to know with certainty that you had peaked.

In Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, life after saving the world is filled with paparazzi, celebrity appearances, and Instagram fame… or for our main character Sloane, a daily existence avoiding the spotlight whenever possible and struggling with the severe nightmares and PTSD that still plague her.

Sloane is one of the five teens who defeated the Dark One — a mad, magical being who created gruesome havoc through Drains, magical forces that obliterate everything in their path, leaving behind uncountable death and vast swaths of destruction.

Ten years after defeating the Dark One, Sloane is still not at peace, and her co-Chosen are having varied levels of success. Sloane’s boyfriend Matt has always been the Golden Child of the group — the super handsome, super nice, charismatic leader who organized the team and led them through their battles. Then there’s Esther, glorying in her Insta fame while caring for a sick mother, Ines (who, honestly, didn’t get much time in this book and therefore remains mostly a blank for me), and injured, fragile Albie, who shares a bond with Sloane based on the worst day of their lives.

Things go horribly awry for the group after the 10-year-anniversary commemorative service, and suddenly, Sloane, Matt, and Esther find themselves literally in another world, facing a new set of circumstances — and quite possibly, a new manifestation of their nemesis, the Dark One.

Oh, this book is complicated! There are parallel universes and magical artifacts, a whole new (and totally rad) system of magic, strange equipment and sources of power, and even an undead army. On top of that, Sloane, Matt, and Esther are no longer the teen Chosen Ones, unjaded and fresh and ready for a challenge. Instead, they’re adults, world weary and mostly resentful as hell that anyone would try to push them into fighting again. It’s just not fair — they’ve already defeated their Dark One!

I loved the characters and the totally odd world-building, which involves our version of Chicago as well as an alterna-Chicago set in a magical version of Earth. (Like I said, it’s complicated). The magical system is pretty cool, involving sounds and frequencies and funky devices called siphons that focus magical intent and energy.

The author includes nods to all sorts of fantasy fiction tropes. Obviously, the idea of a chosen one, prophecies, teens saving the world, a nameless Dark One… we’ve seen these before in many variations.

There’s also this, about the origin of one of the powerful magical artifacts:

He therefore places his soul inside an object that is nested in other objects; for example, he places it in a needle, then buries the needle in an egg, then hides the egg inside various creatures or, in some stories, a trunk. He is unable to die if the needle that contains his soul is intact.

So… a Horcrux?

I also had to laugh at this line — an homage to Stephen King, perhaps?

So tragic that he was able to bring his recently deceased pet cat back to life only for the act to kill him shortly thereafter.

And again, a reference that reminds me of Diagon Alley and the various establishments there:

Maybe it was like the movie-set feel of the Tankard — all their magic stories were set in old-timey fantasy worlds or eras so ancient the magical acts were associated with old gods and angels and demons, so they reached backward to figure out how to be magical instead of forward.

I raced through this book, completely invested in the characters (well, mostly Sloane, who is prickly and difficult and stubborn, tormented and strong and fierce), and so loving the parallel worlds and the strange magic of the story.

I probably could have done without the romantic element that comes into play toward the end of the book, but fortunately that wasn’t the main focus, so it didn’t become too distracting.

I’m not sure that I completely understood all of the villain’s motives and machinations or that the ending totally made sense to me, but I think reading back through it or at least skimming the last several chapters again will help me puzzle it all out. And that’s okay! I love a story that’s not obvious, and where there’s always something else to discover.

Chosen Ones is the first book in a new series. It has a great ending, and while much seems resolved, I can also see how the story has plenty of room to continue. I’m not usually wild about first books in series, especially when they feel like they leave me hanging. In this case, while I definitely want to know what happens next for these characters — especially given the mind-blowing finale — I also feel like this part of the story wrapped up really well.

I’ve never read anything by this author before (and don’t particularly intend to). The blurbs describe Chosen Ones as the author’s first book for adults. Honestly, it reads mostly like YA, but I suppose it’s considered adult fantasy because of the heroes’ ages (roughly 30). Otherwise, I don’t see much of a difference between the content here and in many of the YA fantasies I’ve read, in terms of so-called age-appropriate subject matter.

In any case… I totally enjoyed Chosen Ones, and can’t wait for the next book! Check it out!

Shelf Control #182: Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots
Author: Seanan McGuire
Published: 2012
Length: 204 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Velveteen: How dare you? I never asked for you to hunt me down!

No, Velma Martinez hadn’t. But when you had once been Velveteen, child super-heroine and one of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, you were never going to be free, even if your only power was to bring toys to life. The Marketing Department would be sure of that.

So it all came down to this. One young woman and an army of misfit toys vs. the assembled might of the nine members of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division who had come to take her down.

They never had a chance.

Velveteen lives in a world of super-heroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.

It’s all the same world. It’s all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.

Join us as award-winning author Seanan McGuire takes us through the first volume of Velveteen’s — and Velma’s — adventure.

How and when I got it:

My favorite local bookstore got a limited supply of the hardcover editions of the three books in the Velveteen series at some point last year… so of course I had to get them all!

Why I want to read it:

It’s Seanan McGuire! How could I not? When you have a favorite author, and when you’ve read everything available by that author except for three particular books, and when those three books basically fall into your hands… well, of course you’re going to want to read them. The story itself sounds quirky and offbeat and light-hearted, and I can’t wait to finally get started. Maybe I’ll set aside a long weekend (whenever I have one next) and see how much of the three books I can get through.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #65: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guideline sat the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

My Shelf Control pick this week is:

soon-i-will-beTitle: Soon I Will Be Invincible
Author: Austin Grossman
Published: 2007
Length: 319 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Doctor Impossible—evil genius, would-be world conqueror—languishes in prison. Shuffling through the cafeteria line with ordinary criminals, he wonders if the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life. After all, he’s lost every battle he’s ever fought. But this prison won’t hold him forever.

Fatale—half woman, half high-tech warrior—used to be an unemployed cyborg. Now, she’s a rookie member of the world’s most famous super-team, the Champions. But being a superhero is not all flying cars and planets in peril—she learns that in the locker rooms and dive bars of superherodom, the men and women (even mutants) behind the masks are as human as anyone.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a wildly entertaining first novel, brimming with attitude and humor—an emotionally resonant look at good and evil, love and loss, power and glory.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Several years ago, I think — probably at one of our library sales, where I seem to get most of my Shelf Control books!

Why I want to read it:

Who doesn’t love a good superhero story? It’s got some great reviews from people I trust, and just strikes me as a fun, not particularly heavy, amusing kind of book. Maybe a good vacation read?

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Take A Peek Book Review: After the Golden Age

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

After the Golden Age

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Most people dream of having superheroes for parents, but not Celia West. The only daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the world’s greatest champions, she has no powers of her own, and the most exciting thing she’s ever done is win a silver medal in a high school swim meet. Meanwhile, she’s the favorite hostage of every crime boss and supervillain in Commerce City. She doesn’t have a code name, but if she did, it would probably be Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder.

Rejecting her famous family and its legacy, Celia has worked hard to create a life for herself beyond the shadow of their capes, becoming a skilled forensic accountant. But when her parents’ archenemy, the Destructor, faces justice in the “Trial of the Century,” Celia finds herself sucked back into the more-than-mortal world of Captain Olympus—and forced to confront a secret that she hoped would stay buried forever.

My Thoughts:

I have been meaning to read this book for over a year now, and I’m so glad that I finally did! How does an ordinary girl grow up when she has superheroes for parents? Not easily, that’s for sure. Now an adult, Celia West is finally reconciling with her parents and figuring out how she fits into their world of crime-fighting, where the city’s needs come first and Celia is always a distant second. Meanwhile, Celia’s secrets from her teen years have resurfaced in a most unpleasant way, and the consequences of this exposure are upsetting, to say the least.

After the Golden Age is much more heart-felt than I’d expected. Despite the urban fantasy setting, Celia deals with real emotions and crises, and her struggle to find her place in the world and figure out how she can possibly make peace with her parents has a universal feel to it. There’s romance, intrigue, and adventure, and despite the often desperate throes, also plenty of snarky humor. I knew I was in for a treat when, in the first chapter, Celia’s response to being kidnapped is:

Damn, not again.

I really enjoyed After the Golden Age. The fantasy elements work well as a framework, but it’s the main character and her friends and family that make the book come alive. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

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The details:

Title: After the Golden Age
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: April 12, 2011
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased